The Importance of Fencing

You’ve heard the term ‘fencing a horse’ but do you know what it means? World champion trainer Bud Lyon breaks down the benefits of fencing and why you should try it out.

Photos by Nichole Chirico

Fencing is a drill that’s commonly utilized by reiners and cow horse riders. They do this to work on a horse’s ability to run in a straight line from Point A to Point B while staying relaxed. The fence is used as a barrier so a horse can learn to run relaxed and free all the way to the end to the arena and cease forward motion once he gets there. 

What fencing isn’t is crashing a horse into a fence to work on a stop. If you do that, you’re going to create anxiety and fear in your horse. Plus, you’ll cause your horse to be afraid of running the entire length of the arena—completely defeating the purpose of this exercise. 

Here I’m going to go over the steps of fencing a horse and why it’ll help your horse learn how to run the whole distance of the arena without anticipating stopping.  

Read More: Starting a Reining Spin

Walk Forward

Begin at one end of your arena and walk forward before asking for a lope departure. Your horse should be relaxed, tracking straight, and staying in frame at the walk before you even attempt to lope. This will also help your horse from anticipating lope departures. Continue walking until you feel your horse relax. 

Keep your eyes up, find a point that you want to go to, and work to keep your horse straight as you ask him to lope off on the lead that’s away from the nearest fence. (So if the fence is closer to your right side, you should be loping on your left lead.) This will keep your horse from gravitating toward the fence.

Before I ask my horse to lope off, I take a couple of walk steps to ensure my horse is relaxed and waiting for my cue.

Start Slow and Build

When you ask for a lead departure, start slow and then slowly build speed as you go down the arena. Your horse should be waiting on your cue to increase speed. This will help him stay relaxed, and keep him from jumping into the lope and taking off at full speed from the first step.

As you lope down the arena, you should be evaluating your horse’s speed control, correctness, straightness in his body, and how he travels down the arena. Is he lengthening his stride, and keeping his neck and body relaxed? Or does he have a short, quick stride and bracing against the bit? When you pick up your hand and go to your leg, is he staying in frame and straight? Or does he want to lean into your leg or drift as you travel down the arena? He should be staying between your legs and hands and in a straight line from start to finish.

This is a good time to evaluate what you’re doing, too. Are you sitting down in your seat when you ask for more speed? Or are you bouncing around on your horse’s back? Are you sitting center in your saddle, or are you leaning on one side? If you’re leaning, your horse is going to have a harder time staying straight as you’re off balance.

The more relaxed and confident your horse is going down the arena, the better his stop will be.

Fencing is something that reiners and cow horse riders use to work on a horse’s ability to travel in a straight line, while staying relaxed, and running free the entire length of the arena.

Ask for the Stop

Ride right up to the fence, say whoa, and take your legs away from your horse’s side. He should cease forward motion
and stop. 

Then ask your horse to immediately back up a couple of steps to re-
inforce what you just did. 

You always want to make sure you ask your horse to stop when you approach the fence. He should be hunting the whoa and listening to your verbal, seat, and leg cues to stop. If he doesn’t stop when you cue him to, go to your hand to get him stopped. Then reinforce it by backing him up. 

Once you’ve completed your stop, turn him around to prepare him to go down the arena again. As you stand at the end of the arena, now is a good time to check in with your horse and see what he’s doing. He should be comfortable at the stand still; relaxed and flat footed. If he starts pawing at the ground, or dancing around, chances are he’s more focused on going forward than he is listening to what you’re asking him to do at that moment. 

If you run into any of those problems, take extra time to stand at the end of the arena to get his brain to stop thinking about going forward, and focused more on being patient and waiting for your cue. 

As I lope down the arena, I check in with my horse to evaluate his speed control, correctness, straightness in his body, and how he’s traveling down the arena.

Add Speed

If your horse feels good after the first couple of trips down the arena, now is the time you can start to add speed and see if any flaws show up. Continue to build speed, check in with your horse to see if he’s still with you. 

If any flaws show up, take time to correct them, but remember to do it in a way that will increase confidence and willingness, not in a way that will intimidate him.

Learn More: Horse&Rider OnDemand

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